Ukraine is getting close to the Vilnius summit and the possible signing of the association agreement with the European Union. But do Ukrainians understand that they themselves may be the biggest hurdle for reforms?
Most Ukrainians want to see their nation in the EU. According to a survey by Rating Group, 52 percent of Ukrainians are in favor of European integration, 36 percent are against, and 14 percent are undecided.
According to another survey conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology in September, if a referendum were held on whether Ukraine should join the EU or the Kremlin-led Customs Union, more than 40 percent of Ukrainians would vote for accession to the EU and 35 percent for the Customs Union.
However, sociological surveys indicate another interesting point: one out of every 10 Ukrainians wants – simultaneously – accession to the EU and the establishment of a single state with Russia.
According to Oleksii Antypovych, a Rating Group manager, this shows that a portion of Ukrainians are indifferent about where the country goes. They first and foremost want to live better.
In 2012, the Institute of World Policy conducted a global study to identify key character traits of contemporary Ukrainians. Researchers concluded that our people’s uncertainty can be explained by our Soviet past. We display mutually exclusive features. For example, saying “yes” to democracy whilst also being attracted to an authoritarian government.
Thus, the experts identified character traits that could be psychological impediments for Ukraine on its way to the EU.
‘Great Father’ is all
Post-Soviet Ukrainians still are used to paternalism and control by the state.”If the authorities deliver social benefits, people are ready to support them even when it is obvious that there are no economic resources for the benefits.
In Soviet times, the idea that one’s problem should be solved by their supervisor became entrenched. This vision is still prevalent.
A June survey conducted by the Social Monitoring Center showed that 28.6 percent of respondents believe that the state must secure all citizens a decent standard of living, even if not very high, available to everyone. At the same time, the study showed that the younger the person the lower the expectations from the state. Generally, about two-thirds of Ukrainians think that the state is responsible for providing the conditions for people to be able to have a decent standard of living.
Oleh Rybachuk, a Ukrainian politician and public figure, one of the New Citizen public campaign initiators, says people must realize that neither members of parliament nor the state will solve their problems. In fact, he says, Ukrainians must realize that it is the other way around – that they themselves must supervise authorities and politicians and hold them accountable.
A similar line of thought is voiced by Vitalii Kulyk, deputy head of the Chief Directorate for Constitutional and Law Modernization at the presidential administration. According to Kulyk, civil society should supervise public authorities, i.e. via the already established public councils. However, as he points out, only 5 percent of public councils do perform their functions in Ukraine, whereas the other 95 percent don’t work or are under the control of bureaucrats.
‘It’s no concern of mine’
According to findings of the Institute of World Policy, a post-Soviet person in Ukraine does not believe that real social or political justice is possible. In order to survive, the only thing left to do is to adjust to an unjust system.
However, according to another sociological survey conducted by Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation, protest attitudes among Ukrainians have considerably grown during the last six months: a quarter of Ukrainians say that they would take part in street actions. Their reasons include the dramatic decline in living standards, failure to pay wages, sharp rise of prices, etc.
For a long time, post-Soviet Ukrainians have perceived reforms with fear.
This, according to Oleksandr Paskhaver, president for the Center for Economic Development, can be explained as follows: for historical reasons, the nature of an ordinary Ukrainian’s behavior is focused on physical survival. However, according to Paskhaver, Ukrainian society is realizing that we need fundamental changes – we want to go to the EU because we want to change ourselves. And the EU association agreement, in Paskhaver’s opinion, will put Ukraine in a situation where it must change.
Historian and political scientist Oleksiy Haran also believes that signing the association agreement can become a powerful tool for transforming Ukrainian society. In particular, the more Ukrainians visit foreign countries, and see how people live there, they will want to establish new “rules of the game” in Ukraine as well.
‘Suitcase – railway station – Russia’
According to a 2012 survey conducted by Research & Branding Group, a Donetsk-based company, almost half of Ukrainians consider themselves and their fellow Ukrainians to be “tolerant,” whereas only 14 percent believe that interethnic relations in Ukraine are likely.
However, the fact that FIFA, the world soccer governing body, saw it necessary to impose a two-year ban on matches being played in the Lviv Arena stadium after unacceptable behavior of local fans points to the question whether our country is ready to adopt European values.
Media reported that Lviv fans openly used neo-Nazi symbols during the match and hurled racist insults at a Brazilian-born player. Such behavior goes against the general climate of tolerance in Europe where minority races and groups are respected and sexual minorities’ rights are recognized.
Andreas Umland, a German political science professor at Kyiv Mohyla Academy, says two types of radical nationalisms exist in Ukraine: pro-Russian and anti-Russian. On the one hand, there are groups like Natalia Vitrenko’s Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine or Ruskyi Blok that view Ukrainians as part of a single Russian civilization. On the other is the Svoboda party, which identifies the Ukrainian nation separately from the Russian nation, not only in cultural but also in racial terms. However, as Umland stresses, although Svoboda is now represented in parliament, Ukrainian nationalism can never become a uniting force for the entire country, but only widen the gap between western and southeastern Ukraine.
That is why the European Union and Europeanization can become a uniting factor for Ukrainians, says Umland.
‘Better devil you know’
Total distrust is one of the most acute features of modern Ukrainians. Ukrainians distrust not only authorities but also each other, resulting in an everyday environment in which nobody feels responsible for anyone else.
For example, most people are dissatisfied with the work of the housing maintenance offices (ZHEKs), but at the same time they massively resist the establishmentof apartment building co-owner associations (OSBBs), because they don’t trust their neighbors and cannot imagine joint responsibility for maintenance of their building.
Lawyer Tetiana Montian points out that OSBBs in modern Ukraine are “a canoe one cannot sail in.” In her opinion, most Ukrainians have not realized that socialism ended 22 years ago.
“Ukrainians need to grow up at last and become responsible owners,” she writes in her blog for Ukrainska Pravda, “especially as nobody forced them to become a house or apartment owner.”
‘Darkness must yield to the light’
Ukrainians do not believe in themselves and do not value talents and knowledge. Moreover, they are sure that one cannot achieve success in the existing system. They know that everything in the post-Soviet society can be bought and sold. Most people are willing to pay bribes for everything – for visiting a doctor, for a school certificate, for a university degree, for employment. It is easier to pay and be certain about one’s future than to achieve something in an honest way.
Combating corruption is one of the main requirements of Ukraine by the EU. Former co-rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Hanne Severinsen believes that Ukraine’s Europeanization depends first of all on embracing European values such as the rule of law and observance of human rights. She mentions Georgia as an example where anti-corruption reforms succeeded.
“I don’t think that the need for giving bribes is in your genes,” Severinsen jokes.
Barry Hebb, a Canadian economist, also advises Ukraine to learn from other countries’ experience. However, according to Hebb, the EU association agreement may be able to motivate Ukraine and mitigate the corruption problem on some levels and to a certain extent, but it will by no means change the situation fundamentally. For that, Ukraine is just not ready to make use of the EU association advantages, and transformations must therefore be initiated from inside the country, not from Brussels.